Illegal bunkering in Nigeria

Dec 24, 2004 01:00 AM

The on-going inquest into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of bunkering ship, MT African Pride, has thrown up a plethora of revelations bordering on the dirty deals that go on in Nigeria's upstream oil sector. The most shocking, however, was the bombshell dropped recently by a ship owner and active stakeholder in the industry, Isaac Jolapamo, to the effect that 15 more vessels are currently roaming the Nigerian waters doing illegal bunkering.
Testifying before the House of Representatives panel probing the missing vessel, Jolapamo alleged that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), major and independent oil marketers patronise these vessels which he said are "owned and managed by known international crooks."

According to Jolapamo, these vessels and their customers engage in round-tripping with refined oil and stolen crude oil which they sell at rock bottom prices at the international market. He also revealed thatthe bunkering vessels change names at random in a bid to beat coastal surveillance by security agents. In this way, they are able to clandestinely carry out their illicit trade which oil companies in Nigeria claim has been costing the nation $ 100 mm weekly.
Equally disturbing is the allegation that three Nigerian banks are being investigated for allegedly funding MT African Pride bunkering activities to the tune of $ 15 mm.

In August last year, the Navy impounded a DWT tanker reportedly laden with 15,000 barrels of crude oil. Also impounded within the same period for similar offence were five other vessels namely MT Jimoh, MT Efunyo, MT Capreton I, MT Destiny and MT Betty Nello.
The recent revelation before the House of Representatives panel has further confirmed the desperation and unrelenting efforts of these bunkerers who have constituted themselves into a cartel of economic saboteurs. But more than anything, it is also a clear attestation to the manifest paralysis and atrophy in the nation's security apparatus. This is evidenced by the manner the bunkering vessels were impounded and released over the years without any commensurate punishment meted out to their owners and operators.

Bunkering especially by operators and vessels duly licensed by the government is not an illegal business. But it is worrisome if it happens by the infiltration of persons and vessels not authorised by the Federal Government into the industry.
This is the challenge before the International Bunkering Industry Association of Nigeria (IBIAN). We urge the association to collaborate with the security operatives particularly the Navy and the police to fish out all illegal bunkerers in the nation's waters. The illegitimate activities of these bunkerers does not do the nation any good. It is a drain on scarce foreign exchange.

By patronising foreign vessels, some of them with dubious registration, they undermine the Cabotage Act which was supposed to be a boost to the local shipping industry. The Act encourages the patronage of local ships in the Nigerian waters except in circumstances where such ships lack the capacity to execute the job.
Illegal bunkering on its own is bad business. But it is worse when organisations like the NNPC, PPMC, banks, major and independent marketers are associated with it. This is why government must not sweep the allegation under the carpet.

The National Assembly must on account of this ensure thorough scrutiny of the activities of NNPC, PPMC and other organisations named in the scandal as part of its oversight function. But beyond that, both the NNPC and the PPMC owe Nigerians an explanation as to why they had to patronise illegal bunkerers to carry out what is presumably a legitimate business.
Above all, the recurring incidence of illegal bunkering has posed the challenge of effective surveillance of our waterways to the Navy, the police and any other security agency so mandated. This challenge is as important to the nation as the oil money itself. It therefore must not be treated with levity.

We note that illegal bunkering has continued to thrive because government has over the years treated it with kid gloves.
We therefore implore government to be more decisive and firm in tackling this lingering bogey of illegal bunkering.

Source: Daily Champion
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